SNAP benefits are about to get a boost in a way that will give some a healthy sigh of relief. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is doubling up with something new.
This new incentive is called “Double Up Food Bucks,” and for local farmers, it could be a welcome addition, giving those on government food assistance even more of a chance to buy their wares. How it works is that when you’re shopping on the government program, the price of fresh fruits and vegetables is sliced in half as the government matches every dollar spent on them. If your shopping list centers on the produce department or farmers’ market, you could easily fill your cart further.
For farmers and vegetarians, this is quite refreshing news. In an effort to boost nutritional value and possibly combat obesity and related diseases in the U.S., these “Double Bucks” are being launched as part of a $100 million plan by the federal government called FINI (Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive).
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The idea began about a decade ago, when a similar New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene program gave consumers an extra two dollars to spend on fresh produce if they haunted a farmers’ market for a five dollar purchase.
Some might not see more federal spending as a solution, but if you look at the way food stamps and other SNAP benefits are used, a lot of the money has gone into candy and prepackaged “junk” foods. Unfortunately, a Snickers bar or a packet of ramen noodles is less expensive than a deli salad, and deli products are usually not covered by food stamps.
Until now, even the produce section has been considered off-limits to low-income Americans who depend on government assistance. Prepackaged meat and bread have always been made available, but now fruits and vegetables will be worth the purchase. Many low-income shoppers may discover the benefits of salad instead of a bag of chips and a candy bar for lunch.
The benefits of this new government program, which is set to improve dietary habits for the next five years (and hopefully longer), are certainly nutritional as well as economical. Because of the way SNAP benefits used to restrict consumers from wandering into the produce department and farmers’ market, it created a stigma that healthier and less fatty foods were too expensive. Promoting farmers’ wares instead of excluding them could turn the food industry in a better direction, and possibly lower the average U.S. citizen’s body mass index in the process.
If this program succeeds, we may even see a drop in medical expenses as less U.S. citizens develop diabetes, heart conditions, and possibly even cancer. The program is expected to start early next year.
What do you think of SNAP benefits combining with the “Double Up Food Bucks” program?
[Image via Roma Foods, Salon]